Dialogue and - delightfully - definitions at mosque open house
By The Rev. Paul Viggiano
Posted: 10/24/2010 05:31:42 PM PDT
Updated: 10/24/2010 09:58:49 PM PDT
In an effort to assuage the general discomfort many Americans' experience vis- -vis the Islamic religion, the Islamic Center of South Bay (along with numerous other mosques in Southern California) hosted an open house. I attended and, for the most part, it was a profitable and illuminating event.
I was delighted at the panel of Muslims who were willing to address politically charged questions without the normal political equivocations. There was an open and unanimous denouncement of the actions of terrorists committing atrocities in the name of Allah. One professor on the panel, Dr. Jamil Momand, explained that a fatwa (an Islamic decree) had been signed by the Islamic community uniformly branding the terrorist activities as heinous.
Significant disparity arose during the afternoon regarding the history of the Islamic religion. The panel had a different view of history than many of the visitors. Several guests saw Muslims as the perpetrators of great evil, whereas the panel saw Muslims more in the role of victims - especially over who has a right to the land in the Middle East. Clearly, the different communities have conflicting resources regarding actual historical events.
What I found particularly helpful and instructive were the panel's answers to the religious distinctions between Muslims, Jews and Christians. One panelist, Hafez Hafez, was quick to point out that Muslims believe in Islam, Judaism and Christianity. But further analysis showed that the Muslim's view of Christianity differs from a Christian's view of Christianity. Whereas they believe Jesus was a prophet, they do not believe Jesus to be the son of God and vehemently disagree with the notion of Jesus dying on the cross to deliver men from the guilt of their sins.
According to Islam, men are saved from hell by acknowledging their sin and stopping it. This is substantially inconsistent with the Christian's view of salvation, which is obtained by the grace of God through faith in the cross and resurrection of Christ - good works following as evidence of true faith.
The virtually impossible question that couldn't be answered by the panel was: Does anybody ever truly stop sinning and just how good does one have to be to escape hell? It was here that the words of the late John Gerstner rang true, "the Christian faith is the only religion where men don't save themselves."
The source of the disagreement about the person and work of Christ, according to the panel, arose from variants or errors in the Bible. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are respected by Muslims who view themselves as descendants of Abraham through Ishmael (whereas as Jews and Christians would identify more with Isaac) and men of "the book." Nonetheless, their respect for the Scriptures only goes so far. They were very clear that the Bible has errors but the Quran does not.
Arguments for the veracity of the Quran were given by panelist Adeel Syed. These arguments included the beauty of its writing, its effect upon people, its fulfilled prophecies and its consistency with science. Similar arguments are often made for the Bible.
It may sound odd for a Christian minister to find this kind of dialogue refreshing - I certainly do not agree with the Islamic religious propositions. But living in a society where so few are willing to make any clear authoritative statements whatsoever becomes nauseating - as is evidenced by today's political campaigning.
Dialogues are reduced to meaningless drivel if people aren't willing to make, and seek to defend, some form of propositional truth.
Truth loves a definition. And though I do not agree with the truths espoused by the Islamic religion, at least they had the courage and integrity to state them, which made the event profitable.
The Rev. Paul Viggiano is pastor of the Branch of Hope Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Torrance (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).